Once again, the United States Congress has failed to correct the government’s modern institutional injustice against Black farmers. After years of racist neglect of Black farmers by the Department of Agriculture that ultimately led to the loss of Black lands and Black livelihoods, the government reached a settlement with the Black farmers that, to date, has still not been fully satisfied. The justification for this oversight sounds reasonable at the surface. But, when viewed in light of other appropriations that have been deficit-funded since this settlement was reached initially in 1999, this injustice bears witness to the reality that we are not living in a post-racial society as many would hope.
It has been widely reported that last Friday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) objected to a motion for unanimous consent to pay the remainder of the Pigford settlement as part of a bill that was being considered by the upper chamber. While it is not to say that Sen. Barrasso is overtly engaging in racism, the refusal to appropriate the funds to settle the remaining claims based on the deficit argument is a disingenuous dismissal of the principles of moral government and righteousness in our time. This country has funded a war in Iraq that was initiated outside the principles of morality, based on deceptive intelligence, and has been sustained by deficit funding – all in the name and hope of victory over terrorism. Yet, before there was terror from without, the Black farmers were terrorized from within and victimized by the institutional denial and neglect of a department of the federal government that should have been accountable to the very institution (Congress) that now refuses to pay (or is unable to find the unction to pay) for the damages that same department caused.
Now, here is the not-so-funny context of this indifference. Just a few short weeks ago, outrage was unleashed on Shirley Sherrod for being racist in her official role with Agriculture. Yet, in the instance of the Black farmers there is a haunting silence. How is it that we can call it racism when it’s not, and say nothing when it clearly is racism in its most sinister institutionalized, albeit passive, form? This is not a critique of the practice of being fiscally responsible; it is a critique of being morally responsible. We cannot be the moral conscience for human rights in the world, when the world can openly see that we cannot honor the human right of fulfilled justice in our nation. The obvious question to be asked is, “Why the reluctance and inability to take a righteous action?” Could it be that, if resolved, the Congress will also have to address the injustice against Hispanic farmers and Indigenous Americans who have suffered from similar indifference at the hands of the same government department? Could it be that to acknowledge this injustice on the seasonal eve of the mid-term election will cause some to find themselves in vulnerable positions with their constituents? Or, could it be that we have only viewed the bravery spoken of in our national anthem in terms of battles fought with external enemies, while the enemies that truly threaten our nation (racism, classism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination against the physically and mentally infirm, etc.) go unchallenged?
Whatever the justification for this inaction, the meaning is still the same. When it comes to acknowledging our own sinfulness as a nation, some seem to only point out two sins – abortion and homosexuality. Yet, the sin that so easily besets us, and will easily lead to our demise as a nation, is the one of feigned ignorance when it comes to the cause of justice and just causes. If the decisions that are rendered by the courts and the settlements that are agreed to are not honored and fully satisfied, it matters not what the composition of our federal courts will be, for justice will continue to be a conceptual hope instead of a practiced reality. This is, indeed, our nation’s modern tragic indifference.
Rev. S. Todd Yeary, Ph.D., is the senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Md.
For more information about the Pigford Case and the resulting settlement, please see “The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers” at www.crs.gov.